Funding hoped for police force
Thursday, March 26, 2009
By PETER GOONAN, Copyright The Republican Newspaper
SPRINGFIELD – City officials hope that federal stimulus funds can be obtained to hire additional police officers.
But they say they must evaluate what expenses are covered and for how many years the funds will be forthcoming.
The stimulus money could be a key factor as the city faces further cuts in state aid in fiscal 2010, which begins on July 1.
Police Commissioner William J. Fitchet presented a $39.3 million budget request for fiscal 2010 during a budget hearing on Wednesday with Mayor Domenic J. Sarno, his financial advisers, and Finance Control Board officials.
The budget reflects a 4-percent increase over the current budget of $37.9 million, primarily to cover negotiated salary increases.
“Overall, I am confident we can maintain the public safety levels we have had with this budget,” said Fitchet.
Under the budget proposal, the Police Department would have 569 personnel, including 390 patrol officers and supervisors. There would be no layoffs, but the department would continue to leave 17 vacancies unfilled, Fitchet said.
He will meet with finance officials and the mayor to prepare an application for federal stimulus funds. Fitchet said it may result in the hiring of 10 or more officers, if approved.
The department is hoping the federal funds would cover the salaries and benefits of the added personnel for a three-year period, but the guidelines of the program continue to be evaluated, said Fitchet. The department typically loses between eight and 10 officers a year to attrition, such as retirements.
Sarno said public safety remains the top priority of his administration, but he did not rule out the fact that some police layoffs could occur. The mayor has stated he will strive to prevent the layoffs of police officers.
The city’s state aid was cut by $4.6 million in February, triggering the planned layoff of 89 city workers and the decision to leave 67 vacant jobs unfilled. There could be an additional cut of $13 million in state aid next year, officials have said.
“We continue to try to hold the line the best we can,” Sarno said. “Public safety will continue to be my number one objective.”
President Obama announced on March 6 that $2 billion in stimulus funds would be available to state and local law enforcement efforts nationwide, including $41 million designated for Massachusetts.
In addition to hiring police, the city is eligible for $1.2 million in federal stimulus funds for technology needs, and will apply soon, said Fitchet.
In a key budget cut for next year, he said his department will purchase 10 vehicles in the coming year rather than the 15 cars it was planning to buy to replace some of its oldest and worn ones, saving $140,000.
City Council Finance Committee Chairwoman Kateri B. Walsh said she hopes that stimulus funds can help in hiring officers for a three-year period, and that the economy will improve to bear the expense afterward.